Welcome to “Two QBs For Me and You,” a feature where I focus on and breakdown two notable quarterback performances from the week before. … I then go over what they mean moving forward.
This weekend, I disappeared to climb Snowden, the highest mountain in Wales (and in the British Isles). As the games were being played, I was 3,560 feet above sea level with the most wonderful views.
When I returned, rather than checking the box scores to decide on two players to cover this week, I picked a game with two players I have a keen interest in — Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. For too long, I’ve been a huge Mariota fan and have followed him closely through his time at Oregon and his struggles in Tennessee. Tannehill, on the other hand, is a quarterback whom I’ve never really understood. He has athleticism and a great “throwing arm” (i.e. he looks good when he throws), but he’s got by on that his whole career and he really doesn’t have much else to offer.
Going into the game, both teams needed a win with 1-3 records, and I was excited to see how both would perform. Let’s kick off with the sophomore second overall pick.
20-of-29, 163 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions (plus 7 carries for 60 yards and 1 touchdown)
- Mariota came into the game with no touchdown passes in the previous two games, but by the end of the day had doubled his total TD count for the season.
- The Titans have played 20 straight games without an opening drive touchdown. How awful is that? They couldn’t break the streak on Sunday.
- DeMarco Murray is having an outstanding redemption season. He ran for 121 yards and carried the Titans’ offense for most of the day.
- It took three drives for the offense to find the end zone. Mariota hit Delanie Walker with a great throw down the seam (a theme of the day), and they followed up with three straight Murray runs. On what looked to be a designed run, Mariota scored on a five yard scamper. It was great to see the team finally make an effort to use him on the ground.
- While this game was a great fantasy performance, there were still some plays that showed Mariota’s flaws. He has a tendency to backpedal out of the pocket to his right, a trait that I despise in passers. “Pocket presence” is something talked about in great quarterbacks, and unless a player feels comfortable stepping up rather than stepping out, they won’t ever truly excel. He has improved in this area, but he’s not completely there yet
- In response to a Miami punt return touchdown, the Titans pounded the ball on the ground with ten straight runs between Murray, Mariota, and rookie Derrick Henry. On the eleventh play of the drive, Mariota missed his target, but on the twelfth, he hit Andre Johnson for a two-yard score. This drive looked like what we expected from the Titans when they dominated in the preseason with the ground game.
- Just before the half, Mariota had the chance to lead a two minute drill, and it was perfect. He came out with three straight completions (two to Tajae Sharpe, one to Rishard Matthews), scrambled for a furious 21 yards, and then followed up another short pass to Matthews with a perfect TD toss to Delanie Walker – 5-for-5 and 75 total yards in 1 minute and 13 seconds. Outstanding.
- On a third-and-six early in the fourth quarter, Mariota scanned the field, stepped up in the pocket, and blazed ahead in the open field for a 19-yard run, taking him over 60 yards on the day, which was more than the Miami rushing total at the time (51).
- Once again, the Titans went back to the ground with DeMarco Murray, but they decided on a play action pass to Rishard Matthews to finish off their final touchdown drive. Mariota threw a Dirk Nowitski-style rainbow high into the sky which was plucked by the former Dolphin to make it 30-17.
How did the much-scrutinized Dolphin play in the defeat?
12-of-18, 191 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
- Heading into the game, Ryan Tannehill had the most passing yards by a Dolphin through the first four games of any season. This could be considered a positive, but unfortunately most of those were accumulated in garbage time.
- One of the most excruciating things to watch in a quarterback is when they lack peripheral vision. This is Tannehill’s biggest downfall. It creates problems with spotting incoming blitzers, noticing check down opportunities, and generally means a play might be limited to one side of the field.
- Tannehill had a pass batted down on third down to start the second quarter, and the boos in the stadium could be heard loud and clear.
- On a non-quarterback note, Jakeem Grant has blazing speed. He scored on a 74-yard punt return to tie the game 7-7 in what was probably the Dolphins’ best play of the day.
- On a running back screen, Damien Williams showed why Miami has kept him around forever when he broke off a 58-yard catch and run (which accounted for about a third of Tannehill’s yardage on the day) as Miami looked to reply to the Andre Johnson touchdown. Jay Ajayi capped off the drive to make it 14-14 with two minutes to go in the half.
- Tannehill was under heavy pressure all day. He had his own chance to answer the Titans’ two minute drill with 47 seconds and three timeouts left in the half, but he was sacked.
- In the first drive of the second half, there were more boos as Tannehill was intercepted at the halfway line. The ball was thrown behind DeVante Parker, who was running across the field with plenty of room to run. Unlike many of Tannehill’s previous poor decisions, the pass may have been there, but the execution was very weak. Parker did not help, as the ball seemingly hit his hands before it was ripped away by the defender.
- The duo made amends on the next drive as Tannehill hit Parker on a fifty-yard strike down the left sideline with a perfect throw. Miami had an Ajayi touchdown called back on the next play by a Jarvis Landry hold in what turned out to be a pivotal play. Tannehill was sacked two plays later, and the team settled for a field goal to make it 17-24.
- In the fourth quarter, the Titans brought the heat. For the fifth sack of the day, Tannehill was hit from the blind side by Brian Orakpo, who bull-rushed his way through. While there wasn’t much he could do about it, Tannehill didn’t feel the pressure coming at all. Two plays later, Orakpo used his blazing acceleration to get around the edge and nailed Tannehill again. But in a similar fashion to the last play, he made a straight drop back to the same spot and didn’t notice him coming.
- With three minutes and no timeouts remaining, it was garbage time for Tannehill, but after a 20-yard toss to Parker, he decided to launch a hail mary down the right sideline that was picked off as he was thrown to the ground, again under tremendous pressure.
I’ll take any opportunity to talk about how great Mariota could be and how difficult it is to envision Tannehill turning into a strong NFL quarterback. While this was a very strange game with so few passing yards between the pair of signal callers, it really said a lot about both of these players and teams. Tennessee is using an extremely strong ground game to alleviate the pressure on their young quarterback, who thrives when he can run and use play action effectively. The Dolphins, however, really struggle to run the ball, and it means teams can attack the quarterback and put Tannehill under pressure. And right now, he isn’t handling it well.
I believe these two performances were very indicative of how the rest of the season will go for these quarterbacks. Mariota faces the Browns, Colts, Jaguars, and Chargers over the next four and has the chance to make those who held or bought low very happy. While Tannehill’s schedule isn’t extremely tough (Steelers, Bills, Jets, and Chargers), I fear the Dolphins could fall behind heavily and lose the first two, and there may be cries for Tannehill’s head. Adam Gase has a lot of work to do if he wants to fix the former first-round pick.
Other Week 5 Quarterback Performances of Note
I’m glad the Cardinals got back on track on Thursday night. Drew Stanton simply did his job and let the playmakers do the rest — something which Carson Palmer needs to get back to. On the other side, I’m also glad it’s only taken five weeks to move on from Blaine Gabbert, but apart from the initial excitement and perhaps a few good games, I don’t think Colin Kaepernick’s success is sustainable. Chip Kelly has another awful quarterback group, and he really needs to get a new shiny one in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Tom Brady’s return was awesome, but it was “only Cleveland.” We can’t tell if a quarterback is any good at all if he did that to Cleveland. I’m only kidding. It’s great to have him back, and I simply love watching him play. I don’t love watching the Browns. Not one bit.
Perhaps I spoke too soon on Matthew Stafford last week. He looked very comfortable in a performance that made the Eagles defense look rather mediocre. Carson Wentz had an outstanding game attempting to engineer a comeback, and the loss was certainly not on him. Also in the NFC East, Dak Prescott continues to hugely impress. If I were Jason Garrett, I’d let the rook play even when Tony Romo returns, but I guess he’s got a bit more time to decide.
Andrew Luck, please keep looking to open up the field with T.Y. Hilton. I’ve missed it. Everyone’s favorite QB streamer, Brian Hoyer, showed out again. I’m a firm believer that Jay Cutler shouldn’t be allowed straight back into the lineup (but he probably will be). Sam Bradford, keep balling!
I would love to say the Falcons are for real, but we have seen this all before. For what it’s worth, I do think their offense may be better than it has ever been — but will that be enough? And will Matt Ryan be able to perform when it matters? They should certainly win the division. One team that has perhaps their worst offense in recent history is Green Bay. What is going on? Obviously, anything is possible with Aaron Rodgers, but he certainly doesn’t look comfortable. That being said, if the Packers make it to the playoffs, they are always dangerous.
Quarterbacks covered so far:
- Week 1 – Trevor Siemian and Carson Wentz
- Week 2 – Philip Rivers and Sam Bradford
- Week 3 – Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer
- Week 4 – Blake Bortles and Andrew Luck